The Joys and Struggles of Working Remotely

Working from home – everyone wishes they had that privilege, right? Roll outta bed, throw on some sweats, and start reading emails while the coffee brews. The dream! But anyone who has worked from home for any substantial period of time–and hasn’t lost their job–will tell you it’s not a lazy free-for-all. If you want to work remotely and stay productive, you’re going to need structure and self-discipline.

RedTree is located in Pittsburgh, but I live in Philadelphia over 300 miles away. I work full-time from home and enjoy the benefits it provides quite a bit. But: I don’t think it’s for everyone, I don’t think it’s a good choice for all types of teams, and it has taken time to establish a routine that works for me and the rest of the RedTree team. In this post I’ll cover some of the awesome upsides and unexpected pitfalls of working remotely, as well as some tips to make your work-from-home experience a success.

 

Awesome: a 0-minute commute!

Not so awesome: you’re never not at work.

While everyone else is stuck in traffic or riding a busy train to the office, we remote workers can sip our coffee and get a jump-start on the day. You can gain a lot of time by cutting out a commute. On the flip side, it can be difficult to stop working when your office is inside your home. You might find yourself compulsively answering emails, skipping meals to finish tasks, or working well into the night when you ought to be disconnecting and decompressing.

If you can, keep your work separate from your home life by having a home office that you can actually leave. I spent a year working out of my bedroom, and it was hard to resist cracking open my laptop “for just 15 more minutes”. Also, consider establishing work hours for yourself. Guard your downtime and use it to relax and recover, so you can be at the top of your game the next day. Remind yourself that an email received at 8 PM can wait until the morning if it’s not an emergency.

 

Awesome: working in the comfort of your own home, surrounded by your own stuff.

Not so awesome: some of that stuff better be a legitimate office setup, or you’re not getting anything done.

Ever been stuck in the office on an extra cold day without a sweater? Or forget your lunch at home? Or step in a puddle on the way to work and have to spend the rest of the day in soggy socks? I have done all of these things. But not anymore! Working from home means you can change your outfit whenever you want, or make the short journey to the fridge to grab a snack.

But, you know what an office provides? Desks. Chairs. Computers. Printers. Phones. You know, all the stuff you need to get work done. So if you work from home, you’ve gotta provide those things for yourself. At the very least you probably need internet that won’t drop out, a chair and desk setup that doesn’t hurt your back after an hour, and a computer that doesn’t suck. It’s important to invest in your work space. Working from the couch might seem like a comfy option, but it’s usually not sustainable for an entire workday.

 

Awesome: you can pet your dog or cat whenever you want!

Not so awesome: how can you be expected to get anything done when you can pet your dog or cat whenever you want?!

My dog spends the entire day sleeping under my desk! I can scratch his belly and tell him he’s a good boy every minute of every hour! If the weather’s really nice, we can go for an unscheduled midday walk!

It’s the best. But it’s also a slippery slope. My dog is just one of many distractions bidding for my attention in the house. Sometimes it’s tempting to do household chores like unload the dishwasher, prep for dinner, or do the laundry. Also, did you know that the best time to run ANY errand is while everyone else is at work? The post office, the grocery store, you name it – it’s all yours during regular business hours.

This is just another case for establishing work hours for yourself. Maybe every now and then you treat yourself to a midday walk with your dog – if the weather is REALLY nice. But don’t let one break snowball into an entire afternoon of missed work. You’ll be a more productive and reliable worker if you stick to a work schedule. Also, if you aren’t already tracking your time for your job, consider doing it for your own accountability. I use a tool called Toggl to time my tasks. It keeps me on track and shows me how much I’ve accomplished on any given day.

 

Awesome: The sound of silence.

Not so awesome: Good luck getting an answer to that “quick question” of yours!

I don’t need a lot of social interaction throughout the day to feel good. Working in an office entails a fair amount of small talk, friendly chatter, and distraction disguised as collaboration that sometimes wore me down. But communication is important when you’re part of a team! So while working remotely can be great for focused, independent work, it sometimes makes actual teamwork tricky. Before you’d pop over the cube wall to ask your coworker a question – now you’re playing games of phone (or chat) tag, or trying to explain yourself in lengthy email threads.

Here are some ways to make it easier.

  1. Make sure everyone on the team is clear about what modes of communication to use. Don’t be that one teammate who never has notifications turned on, or refuses to open Slack when that’s what everyone else uses.
  2. Be patient! If you’re working remotely and someone in the office takes a while to get back to you, don’t jump to conclusions. They might be in a meeting or on a phone call.
  3.  Choose the right mode of communication. Quick, simple questions can often be answered over chat. Longer or more complex issues might need a phone or video call. Video calls are great for working out problems because you can actually see the person you’re talking to. Plus, sharing your screen comes in handy. We love using Loom at RedTree to send quick video messages to each other.

 

In conclusion…

While working from home provides some great flexibility and perks, it’s still work. If you’re a remote employee struggling with communication, productivity, or work-life balance, hopefully some of our hard-earned advice will help! So, stop petting the dog, get thee to a desk, and start working!

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